Should we fear to  show mercy?  ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (Lk 6:36) has always been our  motto when it  comes to  mercy.  The Lord has  not stipulated any  condition to mercy as is evident from the Lord’s advice to  forgive ‘not seven times, but seventy-seven times’ (Mt 18:22).

But in   Jude 22,23 we read; ‘Have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by  snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the  tunic defiled by their bodies (by the  flesh). The Scripture tells us that  a heightened level of   caution is required while dealing with people who live in sins against sixth and ninth commandments. In the  case of those ‘who are wavering’ and those whom we  plan to ‘snatch out of  the fire’ common prudence and  discernment is sufficient. But in the case of a person  ‘whose tunic  is defiled by the flesh’- which is a clear indication to the  nature of their sin- mercy should be  exercised with fear. Why?

When we interact  with persons habitually living in sin against chastity,  the  ‘spirit of  whoredom’ (Hos 5:4) that  consumes them will  try to ensnare us too. Saint Paul, who was aware of this spiritual secret teaches the Corinthians: ‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons- not at all  meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since  you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name  of  brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolator, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a person (1 Cor 5:9-11).

In short, we should be cautious  in our friendships and associations. We may not be  committing any sin but if our association is  with a habitual sinner it will definitely  jeopardize our eternal salvation. Yet he deserves  our mercy. The biggest mercy we can show a sinner  is  convincing him about the  sinful nature of  his deeds and telling him how the sacrifice of Jesus becomes the  good news of salvation  to all humanity. It is to  tell him about the need to repent and  return to the Father’s house. It is to  convince him that he is also entitled to the forgiveness and free salvation that  Jesus offers.

Accompanying a sinner without  telling him about the  danger of continuing in sin is not mercy, but a pseudo-mercy that will  lead his  soul to damnation. Those who accompany a sinner without calling  him to repentance will also end up at the  same  place  where  the  sinner  eventually reaches.  When a tendency  to  trivialize sin in the  name of mercy, love, and accompaniment is growing, we should be  very careful.

Perhaps we might be living under the  false notion and  misplaced  confidence that  we will never fall from grace. To such people, St Paul writes; ‘So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall’ ( 1 Cor 10:12). This warning is  more  relevant  now than ever. So let us  show sympathy to the wavering, and snatch others from  the fire of sin. But when it comes to those whose  ‘tunic is  defiled with sins of flesh’, keep a prudent distance even while  showing mercy to them. It is to  safeguard our own salvation.

Does the  tunic of a sinner  contaminate those who approach him? The Scripture gives an answer.  A woman suffering  from hemorrhages for twenty years touched the cloak of Jesus and she was  healed immediately (Mk 5:25-29). Jesus was  holy and his cloak too shared some of his holiness. Peter was a saint and ‘people  carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that  Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by’ (Acts 5:15). Peter’s holiness made even  his shadow  something precious. When the hand-kerchiefs or aprons that had touched Paul’s  skin were brought to the sick their disease left them,  and the evil spirits came  out of them’ (Acts 19:12) because Paul  lived in holiness.

If the holiness, healing, and deliverance  from holy people can be  transmitted through their cloaks, hand-kerchiefs, aprons, and even their shadows, the impurity also can be  transmitted from  the belongings of an unclean person. We should indeed fear the  dress of an unclean person. Think how cautious we should be  in our social relations and friendships when the apostle has warned us not  even to eat with him. The Word of  God says; ‘Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing  unclean’ (2 Cor 6:17).

Let us examine our  relationships and friendships meticulously. Let us also pray for the  grace to correct people living in sin with  prudence and fear.